It was more than six years ago that the Nicholas Lowton, our Rural Dean at the time, suggested that Abbeydore Deanery needed to start thinking afresh about the church in our deanery. So how are things going? Revd Jane Rogers, the Rural Dean brings us up to date.
There were two starting points to this fresh thinking. First, given the difficulty of attracting vicars to rural parishes, how to make Abbeydore an attractive place for dynamic and energetic priests. Second, given the deanery’s financial constraints, how best to organise groups of parishes. Vicars are not allowed to work outside their parish without specific approval, so with the agreement of all the parishes the Deanery became a Group Ministry. The next step was to change the job description for new incumbents from Vicar to that of Rural Pioneer Priest; they were asked to spend half their time on parish ministry and half on reaching out to the wider community in the deanery with the aim of joining in with God’s mission to reveal his kingdom on earth.
This vast deanery, part of the Hereford Diocese, has 35 rural churches and a population of around 12,000 spread from Hay-on-Wye and Hereford in the North, towards the Black Mountains of Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park.
These plans were argued and discussed at length at Synod and at Gatherings held several times a year. In the meantime, three new priests – Mark Godson, Luci Morris and Cate Thomson – were specifically recruited as Rural Pioneer Priests. Their respective benefices agreed their new roles in the statements of needs that they produced as part of the recruitment process.
Another key change was the appointment of Anne Lloyd as Deanery Mission Coordinator (thanks to the support of a grant from Rural Ministries and diocesan funding), to take some of the administrative burden from the clergy as well as producing the fortnightly newsletters to keep us all up to date, managing the website and social media and much, much more all at a deanery, rather than benefice, level. We are now looking to expand this post in the near future.
So how are things going? It has been an exciting time with lots of successes and projects starting up across the deanery. The success of our ‘Grow Strong’ programme aimed at young people from years 5-9, held at Longtown outdoor centre has led to second group being trialled at Trewern in Cusop. As a broad church, we now have regular contact in all eight schools in the deanery; Messy Church is thriving and Messy Vintage is now established at Dulas Court Care Home. Pilgrimage trails have been started with visitors, both local and international, walking from church to church, staying overnight in some cases, promoted by the British Pilgrimage Trust.
The Enabling Worship courses are on offer to anyone interested in helping to lead church services, and a second year-long Growing Leaders training programme is under way. And we have a team of trained lay visitors.
Not everything has been plain sailing – it’s been hard adjusting to new ways of doing things, to the change in service patterns, to working in clusters, not to mention rather a lot of meetings; and of course, not everything has worked first time. But while we have beautiful, much loved and well cared for church buildings now, there is a real danger that in the next twenty years many of these buildings will be left without congregations. This makes it vital that we focus on how we want things to be different; not trying to make things how we imagine (often mistakenly) they used to be. This process has not been easy, but it is, and will be, hugely worthwhile.
Revd Jane Rogers Rural Dean